Fri, Oct 06, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Off The Beaten Track: Dali and Datong: A forgotten corner of Taroko Gorge

Two remote Aboriginal settlements, only reachable on foot, provide a very different experience of Taiwan’s great natural wonder

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

DATONG VILLAGE

The easiest way to Datong village is to follow the road (about two hours’ walk at a leisurely pace, including stops to enjoy the scenery). However, a more interesting way to Datong (which takes only a little longer, because, although much slower-going, it’s more direct) is to turn sharp left at the junction a few minutes along the road, downhill to a couple of ramshackle structures that are all that is left of the former community of Dali. If the weather is clear, look out for the scattered houses of Datong village, crowning a bluff a couple of kilometers further north up the gorge. Just below the path, a signpost points the way to the abandoned village church, an evocative little building slowly being swallowed by a sea of tall undergrowth.

The Dali-Datong Trail starts just beyond the church and soon becomes a dirt trail contouring the steep, wooded mountainside, crossing a series of small streams, their beds littered with beautiful chunks of rough marble. The trail up from Shakadang joins from the left about midway to Datong.

Datong consists of just four or five residences widely spread out on the grassy hillside, and commanding expansive views over the gorge of the Shakadang River, the rocky tip of Mount Qingshui (清水山; 2,408 meters) ahead, and, to its right and in front, the shapely dome of Mount Qianliyan (千里眼山; 1,624 meters).

It takes 5-6 hours to get here from the National Park Headquarters, so most hikers that make it this far stay the night, either in a villager’s house or camping on the grass (ask first). Try to book in advance (especially on Saturday nights) in case a hiking group is passing through, to avoid a very long, and possibly benighted, walk back down.

Once here, kick back, enjoy the amazing peace, listen to the residents speak Truku to each other, and (if the weather is clear) goggle at the stupendous views over the Shakadang River gorge and the big mountains opposite. Taroko Gorge may be just a few kilometers away as the eagle flies, but up here, it could just as well be a hundred.

Richard Saunders is a classical pianist and writer who has lived in Taiwan since 1993. He’s the founder of a local hiking group, Taipei Hikers, and is the author of six books about Taiwan, including Taiwan 101 and Taipei Escapes. Visit his Web site at www.taiwanoffthebeatentrack.com.

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